Transforming the party into a feminist eco-socialist party and using homework to change the province
While politicians typically spend their workdays in government offices or press conferences, the leader of the Quebec Green Party can be found attending classes at Concordia University.
Alex Tyrrell, at age 25 is currently the youngest leader in Quebec politics, and was elected to leadership on Sept. 21, 2013. He began his studies at Concordia University as a part-time student in environmental science in 2011, and is planning to graduate next year.
Tyrrell described balancing being a student and the leader of the Quebec Green Party as being a unique challenge. “Not that many people have the opportunity to be in my position,” Tyrrell said. “It’s a really fun experience.”
Some students have told Tyrell they are impressed he was voted into office, other students are more curious about the relevance of the green party and its platform.
“Those are questions I get a lot and the answer is that the green party can contribute things to the debate that are otherwise absent,” Tyrrell said.
Tyrrell’s first involvement with the Quebec Green Party began when he ran in the 2012 election. Prior to this, Tyrrell was involved with the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) before the Orange Wave, during the era of Jack Layton.
“I decided to switch to provincial politics, because the NDP had kind of taken a turn for the right under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair,” Tyrrell said. “At that point I became interested in provincial politics, especially with everything that was happening with the student movement around then.” At the time, students were taking to the streets to protest against the provincial government’s proposal to increase tuition fees, which would later be dubbed the Maple Spring.
What led Tyrrell to the green party over others was the party’s values, which corresponds most to his. “The fact that they were for free education and wanting carbon tax measures and had a very aggressive program … that’s what lead me to choose the green party of Quebec,” he said.
Tyrrell said the recent changes within the party, such as free education and keeping the healthcare sector public, constitutes the Quebec Green Party as an eco-socialist party, as it used to be more centrist. “I’ve been able to build on [the party’s platform] and define the party on more issues than just environment,” Tyrrell said. He faced the Quebec general election only five months after becoming the party leader. “Within five months we were able to completely redefine the ideology of the party around eco-socialism and also start with almost a brand new set of candidates,” he said.
Along with the change to be an eco-socialist party, the Quebec Green Party has progressed in other elements. Tyrrell said the party has become a youth-led movement. He added, previously the party was male dominated, but now there are a lot more women involved. Tyrrell said that in the 2012 election, of all of the provincial party candidates, only 20 per cent were women, being the lowest percentage of all the parties said Tyrrell. “We’ve managed to change that—it’s now written in our constitution that it’s a feminist party.”
The female candidacy is now at 35 per cent, but Tyrrell said the party wants to further strengthen female involvement. “We’re actually hoping to present a team of candidates in the 2018 provincial election [with a] majority of women candidates, which has never been done in Quebec or in Canadian politics at this point,” Tyrrell said.
Tyrell said one of the biggest improvements under his leadership is the party’s willingness to directly address controversial matters. “[Voters] want a party that’s going to stand up to protect public health care and access to education and a number of other things,” he said, adding the party is building a more balanced platform. “We’re not scared to get into controversy and speak out on things,” he said.
Tyrrell said being younger than most politicians requires him to prove himself. Most people however are positive towards the young politician.
“People want to see youth in politics,” Tyrrell said. “They want our generation to start coming up and start taking power.”
Much of Tyrrell’s education at Concordia ties in well to issues the Quebec Green Party wants to address. “For one of my courses I [did] a project on a landfill biogas facility,” Tyrrell said. “They’re recuperating the gas from the decomposing organic material and burning it for electricity.” This process can be used to power vehicles using natural gas, he said.
Tyrrell touched on how his first-hand learning experiences and excursions have given him added perspective. His excursions have included visiting various peatlands, which are wetlands that accumulate dead moss and plants over time. He also had the opportunity to meet with environmental groups that protect these wetlands
“I’m able to learn things in school about the environment and then apply them directly to issues that are actually happening in Quebec,” Tyrrell said.
Tyrrell said he frequently discusses Quebec Green Party policy and what issues the party should address with classmates and professors. He added that while people are becoming more concerned with climate change, Concordia is a great environment to become in tune with new approaches and resolutions to environmental issues as there are many ways to become educated and involved in sustainability.
In terms of Concordia making changes to be more environmentally friendly, Tyrrell is a strong advocate for ending investment in fossil fuels. “If Concordia were to become the first university to completely divest from fossil fuels, it would say a lot about the direction that the institution is going in and would attract a lot of people who are interested in doing research in terms of the environment,” he said.
Tyrrell believes sustainability is not the only factor Concordia could improve on. “[The Quebec Green Party] thinks that universities should be run primarily by students and professors,” Tyrrell said. Tyrrell feels that community members should be able to have more input towards future decisions at Concordia.
“We think that across Quebec, students and professors between them should hold the majority of seats on both the senate and board of governors rather than the system we have now where students and professors are marginalized while institutional and corporate representatives make up the majority of both the board of governors and the university’s senate,” he said.
While discussing the current issue at Concordia in regards to the recent $235,000 severance package given to former chief financial officer, Tyrrell believes ground rules should be implemented to prevent similar circumstances in the future. “What happened at Concordia is one example, but things like that happen in many different places in the public services,” Tyrrell said.
After graduation, Tyrrell will be gearing up for the provincial election on Oct. 1, 2018. “I definitely very much like being the leader of the Quebec Green Party and would like to continue building on what we’ve started here for some time,” he said.
He hopes the party can have a full team of 125 candidates for the first time. “With the environmental problems getting worse and worse as time goes on, naturally people will tend to support parties that have a very aggressive environmental program,” Tyrrell said. “For us, it’s about presenting [a sustainable platform] in the hopes that people will look to us and choose to support us.”